Making your own masala chai

“Chai” is the American nickname given to the traditional Indian beverage masala chai. The drink is a mixture of black tea, milk and spices, and has become popular all over the world. Blending your own masala chai is not only delicious, but a great way to learn about the different characteristics of fresh spices.

Masala chai in India
Masala chai plays a large role in the culinary culture of India. Street vendors known as chai wallahs, literally “tea sellers,” are known for selling their own proprietary tea, spice and milk blend in little disposable clay cups to those looking for a quick pit stop. In addition to being a very popular drink for those on the go, chai also has very strong roots in Indian hospitality rituals. Every family has their way of preparing chai, and sharing their special drink is a sign of respect towards visitors.

Since its introduction to the United States, chai has become very popular among Western palates. Unfortunately, the chai that one receives in a coffee shop is often a far cry from the traditional version found on the streets and homes of India. However, chai is actually a very easy drink to prepare at home. Creative online culinary school students can tweak and substitute each to make a unique chai that is all their own.

Chai is traditionally made with a black tea due to its ability to absorb and complement the flavors of the spices. Assam teas tend to have a very robust flavor that works nicely with more intense spices like cinnamon, while the more delicate flavor of Darjeeling is nice for a subtler blend. While black tea is the more popular choice, green tea is also sometimes used but must be kept at a shorter brewing time to avoid bitterness.

Adding spices gives you the most flexibility to personalize your chai. Green cardamom is thought to be the basic chai spice. The fragrant pods are commonly used as a chai foundation and form the basis of what is recognized as “chai-flavored.” In addition to green cardamom, popular spice additions include fennel seeds, cinnamon, black peppercorns, fresh ginger, star anise, coriander and cloves. These spices are best bought fresh and in bulk from a local Indian grocery.

Making your chai
To make the chai, first brew your ground spices and sugar together in water. After about five to ten minutes, add the milk and continue to brew. Finally add the tea and let steep for about three minutes. To enjoy, simply strain the mixture into cups or a warmed teapot.

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